Friday, January 3, 2014

BAB Classic: TV Party Tonight! - The Muppet Show

NOTE:  This post was originally published on 19 October 2009.
Karen: Grab your popcorn, a glass of soda, and let's have a TV party! Tonight's show: The Muppet Show!

The Muppet Show is one of those TV shows that had a distinct impact on those of us born between the mid-60s and early 70s. In some ways a natural progression from the kiddie-aimed Sesame Street, The Muppet Show brought a humor that could be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Filled with slapstick, goofy skits, as well as musical numbers and guest stars, it was not to be missed in many households- including mine!

The show premiered in 1976 as a syndicated, half-hour variety show. In my area (Southern California), it was shown on Saturday nights at 7 pm. The cast of Muppets included Kermit the Frog as the beleaguered show manager, his sort-of girlfriend, Miss Piggy, as the diva, Fozzie Bear, Kermit's friend and struggling comic, and a plethora of other characters, such as the Swedish Chef, Dr. Honeydew, and kibitzers Statler and Waldorf. The show itself mimicked a vaudeville show, but with plenty of backstage antics. Over the years, a long list of guests appeared on the show, including Elton John, Rita Moreno, Gene Kelly, and even Alice Cooper (Alice was actually considered scary back then)!

The show had a number of on-going sketches, but my personal favorite was probably Pigs in Space, or Piiiigs.... in..... Spaaaaace! Even though I was a die-hard Star Trek fan, I still appreciated this parody, with dim-witted Captain Link Hogthrob, first officer Miss Piggy, and weirdo scientist Dr. Strangepork! They cruised through space aboard the Swinetrek, their oddly-shaped spaceship.

But probably the very best thing about the Muppet Show was the opening theme. All these years later, I still feel happy when I hear it.


Edo Bosnar said...

Your embedded video doesn't seem to be working any more. Here's a link to the theme song that should work.

Anyway, I love, love, love the Muppet Show. It featured outstanding all-ages humor that, to me at least, holds up quite well after all of these years. All the regular sketches you mentioned are great (I would also add "Veterinary Hospital" to the list).

And since you mentioned Rita Moreno, here's a link to a classic bit from one of her guest appearances, which also highlights another favorite character of mine, Animal.
Other great shows included those guest hosted by Christopher Reeve, Lynda Carter and the cast of Star Wars (the last song in that video is a bit prophetic).
Also liked the ones where the rats took over the whole show, and that one where the multiplied Beakers did the same thing.

I could go on and on about the Muppets, so I'll just cut it off here with a link to Beaker's rousing rendition of Feelings.

Anonymous said...

The "Mahna Mahna" song -- talk about getting a song stuck in your head; that one's been in there since it first broadcast!

Doug said...

Edo --

Thanks for the catch on the video. I've replaced it. That's my fault for not checking when I moved the post forward.

The Muppets' rendition of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" was a classic, too!


Redartz said...

The Muppet Show was never-miss viewing at our house! The music, comedy and inspired silliness never failed to provoke a smile, and still do today.
Fozzie and Animal were my favorites, and the performances by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem were a big highlight. And what an array of guest stars!
And later, several years after the show ended, we had the pleasure to revisit all those characters in the wonderful "Muppet Babies"...

Doc Savage said...

Dr. Teeth is my favorite. What a maniac.

Humanbelly said...

I think I have the first three seasons on DVD-- received over a string of Christmases.

A really neat thing to take in is which guests are able to surrender to the reality of the Muppets being "alive" in the scenes and sketches. Someone who surprised me in a wonderful way was an elderly Ethel Merman who gave just about the sweetest, most endearing rendition of "No Business Like Show Business" of her career. And you see her completely buying in to the fact that she's relating it to these colorful little folks surrounding her.

Zero Mostel was also a hoot-- his own hamminess fitting perfectly with the stylized reality of the Muppet-verse.

On the other end of the spectrum-- young, young, YOUNG Elton John came across to me as being pretty obviously stoned, AND therefore unsure of what exactly going on around him was real or "enhanced", as it were.

I've done just a touch of professional puppetry, and I can't begin to tell you how impressive the skill-set is for those guys. I daresay there are very few people on the planet who can operate at the level they do/did. Ah, the loss of Jim Henson was just huge. An irreplacable talent.


Anonymous said...

As a kid my favorite episode was the one with Mark Hamill (and his "cousin" Luke Skywalker - "who's your tailor? I love your outfit!") - but I haven't seen a full episode since when it originally aired.

I wonder if it is on Netflix streaming. . .

I also remember a bit where Carol Channing was chastised to acting like it was a kiddie show, but then going way overboard in trying to be sultry - all while performing "Animal Crackers" by Shirley Temple.

Doug said...

HB --

Welcome back! I saw over on the AA! boards that you'd emerged from hibernation. Stick around, dude!


Humanbelly said...

Ha! Thanks much, Doug. Work, massive Holiday schedule/commitments, and that ol' hombre called "LIFE" managed to pull me off the boards for a bit. Probably the one single thing that directly conflicted with my on-line ruminating time was that HBSon and I committed ourselves (after many years of "gonna"s) to playing at the TubaChristmas event at the Kennedy Center. . . aaaaaaaaand I was nowhere near good enough on the euphonium (baritone horn) to be able to attempt it w/out MANY hours of diligent practice. So the time slot where I normally would be bending ears 'round here and at the AA boards? Down in the comic book room. . . blatting away. . . for several weeks. (Okay, that's one excuse of many, at least. . . heh. . .)


William Preston said...

I wonder for how many folks this is true: I didn't watch Sesame Street, as I was a little too old when it started on TV. (I didn't watch it until I had kids myself.) But I was aware of the characters, and I--and my parents--loved the Muppet Show. It wasn't until I was older and saw it with my oldest daughter that I realized Miss Piggy wasn't a character on Sesame Street.

Garett said...

Muppet show was great! Here's a new "muppisode" that's pretty funny:
Muppisode: Food Fight!

Edo Bosnar said...

Osvaldo, click the third link in my comment above, it has the bulk of that Star Wars episode is featured in that video. Otherwise, the whole episode is posted on YouTube, here's part 1. And yes, that "who's your tailor?" bit is hilarious - it's a running joke throughout the episode.

And William, I was young enough to have watched Sesame Street first, and I grew to love Muppets there, so I was overjoyed when they got their own prime time (sort of) show. Also, I loved it when characters from Sesame Street, like Ernie & Bert and Big Bird, made guest appearances on the Muppet Show.

Karen said...

Glad to see this old post has taken off today. William, I'm glad you brought it up -I too saw very little Sesame Street growing up but really became a fan of the Muppet Show. My parents -well, I think it was my mom, really - had some strange views on children's shows; she disliked almost all of them, including Sesame Street, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, Captain Kangaroo -I mean, you name it. So we never saw them. But she was just fine with the Muppet Show. Saturday nights -before I could drive - were filled with Muppet Show, In Search Of, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Saturday Night Live! The best shows -Muppets and early SNL -bracketing a whole lotta cheese.

Doug said...

Uh oh! For those of you paying attention, Miss Karen may have just unleashed some fodder for your Discuss, etc. needs during January. I don't know... Discuss: Shows With Celebrity Guest-Stars. Has a ring to it, doesn't it?

I was one who knew the Muppets on Sesame Street first. I recall being somewhat put out that Kermit was the only crossover star making it from PBS to the network. My disdain was soon abated, however, and The Muppet Show became can't miss television each week.


Edo Bosnar said...

By the way, Garett, thanks for that Food Fight link. Very funny. It's also rather interesting to see Ramsay not spewing a stream of profanities while on camera...

Hoosier X said...

Was there ever a bad episode of The Muppet Show? Even when I didn't know the guest star - like when Fred Willard was on, or Twiggy! Remember the Twiggy episode?! - it was always great.

I wasn't much of a fan of Sylvester Stallone back then, but he was great on The Muppet Show! (And I've come to appreciate Stallone over the years.)

And then there was Victor Borge, Roger Miller, Elke Sommer, Johnny Cash and on and on.

Doug said...

It would be interesting, for shows that relied on guest stars, to know how negotiations went with different stars. I've heard that during Bat-mania Hollywood types lined up to get on that show. I wonder about others, like the Muppet Show for example? Were celebrities eager, or were there certain folks who needed their arms twisted?


William Preston said...

Karen said, "My parents -well, I think it was my mom, really - had some strange views on children's shows; she disliked almost all of them, including Sesame Street, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, Captain Kangaroo -I mean, you name it."

My parents were, contrariwise, way too comfortable with me watching television . . . ALL THE TIME. I watched the Captain, though I wasn't fond of anything except the ping-pong balls bit, and I only liked the homebound aspects of Mr. Rogers, losing interest during the Land of Make-Believe. Philly had a great show called Gene London that earned my Saturday devotion.

Humanbelly said...

I think we (in my family) were much more in your boat, William. All TV, All the Time. But golly, Karen, I'm incredibly curious as to what your folks could have found objectionable about Captain Kangaroo. He pretty much defines the earliest boundaries of distinct memories for me. DEVOTED to that show from my pre-school years through about 2nd grade, I'd say.

We touched base at the dinner table about the Muppet Show tonight, as both Wifebelly & Daughtbelly have loved the show as well. Ruth Buzzi was a favorite guest of the wife's; whereas Daught particularly liked an episode where a famous ballerina was the guest.
I do kind of feel that the first season could be decidedly hit-or-miss, though. Some musical numbers could go on far too long w/out anything to sustain interest other than the fact that they were being performed by Muppets. And there were at times too many numbers in a given episode, which sometimes felt like filler material. But once they were able to identify and nurture running gags and long-term interpersonal relationships and on-going sketches and segments, the show really did take off. The Swedish Chef was a particular playground/sport practice favorite. . . probably 'cause just about ANYONE could do a recognizable impersonation of him-! When you catch those segments, they become even funnier when you realize that Henson is doing the head & voice, and Frank Oz is working both hands (an atypical arrangement), and Frank would NEVER stick precisely to the script, and do just about anything to try to make Jim break up.


Karen said...

HB, welcome back! I think my mother was convinced that these shows were exerting a "liberal" viewpoint that she didn't want us kids exposed to. She was never quite able to vocalize what this was to me, but I suspect it had something to do with her perception of "hippie" (aka drug) culture. I know, the Muppets were so innocent. HR Puffnstuf, on the other hand...

Edo Bosnar said...

Interesting comments about TV watching as kids; first off, I have to say that while I suppose I did watch a lot of TV as a kid, my parents (well, my dad, mainly) did put up some restrictions - I realized from talk in the school playground that I spent about half as much time in front of the tube as most of the kids in my peer group. And speaking of kids' shows, your mom's views on them are fascinating to me. My parents, erm, no actually, pretty much my dad exclusively was also really concerned about me and my older siblings picking up 'liberal,' 'permissive' or even 'subversive' ideas from TV, but children's programming or cartoons - and the Muppets! - were deemed acceptable.

And Karen, since your mom was concerned about hippie or drug culture, I'm assuming she never flipped through any of your issues of Starlin's Warlock or Captain Marvel...

david_b said...

An all-around great show. It was light and frothy without becoming sappy or talking down to the audience. A lot of good writing went into the show, but my strongest memories were of highschool Monday mornings.

Typically the more macho, arrogant classmates, I'd give a wry look at the tough football players and class studs in the hallways when I'd overhear, 'Say did you guys see the 'Muppet Show' Saturday night, I nearly laughed my *** off.'

It's normal timeslot (early Saturday evenings) would never fail to interrupt family dinners, IF I got my parents to turn the channel from 'Hee Haw'.

LOVE the Star Wars link, Edo.

As for that 'Mahna Mahna' song, it's ironic for all it's innocent popularity, it was first used in a late-'60s lurid Italian documentary about Sweden. Here's the youtube link..:

Original usage for 'Mah Na Mah Na'

Wikipedia link on 'Mah Na Mah Na'

Totally agreed with HB about Ethel Merman's appearance. It was superb and perhaps one of her finest, most heart-felt poignant performances.

Like most Hollywood legends, they're legends for a good reason..: Give 'em a stage and they will KNOCK your socks off.

And with the Muppets no less. Much thanks for Jim and Frank for that grand opportunity.

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